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Juicy Whole Roast Turkey

Nothing says Thanksgiving like a classic Whole Roast Turkey. And, this one is so easy! Plus, it’s hugely flavorful, thanks to generous amounts of fresh lemon, rosemary, butter, and garlic. Trust me, this recipe is one that you will absolutely love!

overhead close up shot of a whole roasted turkey on a roasting pan

My Favorite Way to Make a Thanksgiving Turkey

While there are tons of recipes for roast turkey out there, with every spin and twist imaginable, my personal favorite is this very traditional, yet light and easy version.

The turkey itself is the star, enhanced with the perfect amount of creamy butter, sharp fresh lemon, and fragrant rosemary. It’s a balanced flavor profile that will make your home smell heavenly, and delight your friends and family!

Roasted turkey stuffed with fresh rosemary.

It Starts with the Right Turkey

How do you know which turkey to buy? These tips will help you navigate the poultry case with ease!

  • Weight: Most cooks recommend one pound of turkey per person, and it’s generally a good idea to budget a couple of extra pounds just in case.
  • Frozen or Fresh: The main things to keep in mind with frozen vs fresh turkeys are cost, and time. Frozen turkeys take a lot of time to thaw (24 hours for every five pounds), so they are less convenient, but they are also generally less expensive. If you have the time, you can definitely take advantage of the price difference. If time is at a premium, then purchasing a fresh turkey that doesn’t need thawing may be your best bet.
  • Special Labels: When you’re searching for a good turkey, you’ll see a lot of options! Kosher, organic, free range, all natural, and a lot more. This handy guide can help you understand these different labels and choose!
Uncooked turkey in a pan with broth being poured on top.

Prepping Your Turkey for the Big Day!

  • Thawing. Since thawing a frozen turkey is a big time investment, make sure you budget that time well in advance. For a ten pound turkey, you will need approximately 48 hours of thawing time, plus the time needed to prep, roast, cool, and carve the turkey. Whew! It’s best to thaw the turkey in its original packaging in the refrigerator.
  • To Wash or Not to Wash? I recommend patting your turkey dry before preparing it, but I don’t recommend washing. It’s not necessary for sanitary reasons, and in fact may spread bacteria from the raw turkey by splashing water across counters, dishes, etc.
  • Brine Away! Another great step to take if you have the time is brining. Brining is essentially marinating the turkey in a flavorful salted water bath before prepping and roasting. The result is a well-seasoned and juicier turkey! This handy tutorial on brining has lots of good info!
  • Trussing: Arranging a whole turkey properly will help it to cook more evenly and make a better presentation. For this recipe, I recommend simply tying the legs together (after placing the cavity ingredients inside the turkey), and tucking the wings back. Easy!
Bowl with butter and rosemary mixed together.
Rosemary butter adds incredible flavor to this roasted turkey recipe.

Recipe Ingredients

  • A Whole Turkey: For this recipe, I’m using a 10-12 pound bird, thawed.
  • Butter: You’ll need one stick of butter at room temperature.
  • Fresh Rosemary: Remove any tough, woody stems from one sprig, and chop two tablespoons of the rosemary. Leave the other sprigs whole.
  • Fresh Garlic: Mince 3 garlic cloves, or press them, and leave 5 whole.
  • Zest of One Lemon
  • Onion: Cut one whole onion in half, for the cavity. You’ll also need two tablespoons of minced onion for the stock.
  • Chicken Stock: You can use low-sodium broth, homemade stock, or even bone broth here.
  • Seasoning Salt: Use your favorite variety of seasoned salt, or make your own mix!
Uncooked turkey in a pan with rosemary in the cavity.

Should You Place Stuffing Inside of the Turkey?

Stuffing the turkey is really up to you! Different cooks have different approaches to stuffing the bird; for safety guidelines, see this helpful guide. I prefer to prepare stuffing on the side, which makes a nice presentation, and also makes it easier to cook the turkey and stuffing to the correct temperature.

Basting a whole roast turkey in a pan.

How to Roast a Thanksgiving Turkey

  1. Dry the turkey. Pat dry the turkey and discard the giblets. Place in a roasting pan.
  2. Stuff the turkey breast skin with herbed butter. In a small bowl, combine the butter, fresh rosemary, minced garlic, and lemon zest. Separate the skin over the breast to make pockets and fill with the butter mixture.
  3. Add the Cavity Ingredients and Truss the Turkey. Place the halved onion, garlic cloves, and rosemary sprigs into the turkey cavity. Tie the legs together with kitchen twine and tuck the wings under the turkey.
  4. Add the Stock and Seasoning Salt. In a medium bowl, combine the stock, rosemary, and minced onion. Pour the stock mixture over the turkey and then sprinkle the seasoning salt all over the turkey.
  5. Roast. Cover the turkey with foil, and bake at 350°F for 3½ to 4 hours, or until the internal temperature of the turkey reaches 170 degrees F at the thigh and 160F at the breast. (Roasting time will depend on turkey size.)
  6. Baste. After about 40 minutes remove the turkey from the oven (close the door to keep the heat in) and baste with the juices in the pan. Cover with foil again and put the turkey back in the oven. Repeat every 40 minutes.
  7. Remove foil. For the last 45 minutes or so, remove the foil so the turkey can brown.
  8. Let rest. Once the turkey has tested done with a thermometer, remove from the oven and cover loosely with foil. Let rest for at least 30 minutes before carving.
Roasted turkey in a pan with rosemary and orange slices.

How Long Do You Roast a Turkey?

How long you roast a turkey depends on the size of your turkey. The general rule is about 20 minutes per 1 pound of turkey. There is also a difference between roasting times for a stuffed and unstuffed turkey. Here are some approximate times:

Roasting Times for an Unstuffed Turkey

  • 6-8lbs = 2.5 to 3 hours
  • 8-12lbs = 3 to 4 hours
  • 12-16lbs = 4 to 5 hours
  • 16-20lbs = 5 to 5.5 hours
  • 20-24lbs = 5.5 to 6 hours

Roasting Times for a Stuffed Turkey

  • 6-8lbs = 3 to 3.5 hours
  • 8-12lbs = 3.5 to 4.5 hours
  • 12-16lbs = 4.5 to 5.5 hours
  • 16-20lbs = 5.5 to 6 hours
  • 20-24lbs = 6 to 6.5 hours

How to Tell Your Turkey is Done

You should use a good meat thermometer (Instant Read thermometers are best) to check for doneness starting at around 3 hours. You’ll know the turkey is done when the internal temperature is at 160°F in the turkey breast and 170°F in the thickest part of the thigh. Note: the thermometer should be in the thigh meat, but NOT touching the bone.

Basting a roasted turkey in a pan.

Tips for the Best Thanksgiving Turkey

  • Roasting Rack? Your roasting pan may have a rack included, but if not, you can create one out of veggies (and add extra flavor). Simply line the bottom of your roasting pan with thick wedges of onion, whole washed carrots, and sticks of celery. Instant roasting rack!
  • Rest, Rest, Rest. Yes, you! Cooking a Thanksgiving dinner is quite an undertaking! But also let the turkey rest—for at least 30 minutes after roasting. A good rest time helps the turkey’s juices stabilize, and makes carving much easier.

How to Carve the Turkey

  1. To carve a turkey, remove the legs first (thigh and drumstick together). Separate each thigh and drumstick, and slice the thigh meat. You can serve the drumsticks whole, or save them for leftovers.
  2. Next, cut the breast meat away from the center breastbone. You’ll run your knife carefully along the breastbone, and then cut along the the rib bones, removing two large breast halves. Slice these and place on the platter.
  3. Finally, remove the wings and either serve whole or save for another use.

Want a more detailed tutorial? Watch this video!

overhead shot of a whole roasted turkey on a roasting pan

What to Serve with Your Juicy Roasted Turkey

  • Roasted Veggies: This Easy Oven Roasted Vegetables recipe is good with everything, but it’s really on point for the holidays!
  • Potatoes: Any potatoes are good potatoes, in my book. But I have to admit that these Hedgehog Roasted Potatoes are extra delicious and fun!
  • Cake: Treat your sweet tooth with a yummy dessert, like my delicious Carrot Sheet Cake! It makes plenty, and is just. so. good.

How to Store and Reheat Leftovers

  • Store leftover turkey tightly wrapped, in airtight containers, or in food storage bags.
  • Leftovers stay fresh in the refrigerator for up to three days, and in the freezer for up to 2 months.
  • To reheat, place leftovers in a covered baking dish with a splash of stock or broth, and bake at 350°F until heated through.

Whole Roast Turkey

A classic whole roast turkey recipe, featuring fresh lemon, rosemary, garlic, and butter.
Prep Time20 mins
Cook Time4 hrs
Total Time5 hrs
Course: Dinner, Main Course
Cuisine: American
Keyword: best thanksgiving turkey, easy roast turkey, roast turkey, thanksgiving dinner, thanksgiving turkey
Servings: 10
Calories: 559kcal

Ingredients

  • 1 10 to 12 pound whole turkey, thawed
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • 1 onion, halved
  • 5 garlic cloves
  • 3 sprigs of rosemary
  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • 1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons minced onion
  • 2 tablespoons seasoning salt

Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 350F.
  • Pat dry the turkey and discard the giblets. Place turkey on a rack set in a roasting pan.
  • In a small bowl, combine the butter, fresh rosemary, minced garlic, and lemon zest.
  • Separate the skin over the breast to make pockets and fill with the butter mixture; rub it all around and to the thighs.
  • Place the halved onion, garlic cloves, and rosemary sprigs into the turkey cavity.
  • Tie the legs together with kitchen twine and tuck the wings under the turkey.
  • In a medium bowl, combine the stock, rosemary, and minced onion.
  • Pour the stock mixture over the turkey and then sprinkle over the seasoning salt.
  • Cover the turkey with foil, and bake at 350°F for 3½ to 4 hours, or until the internal temperature of the turkey reaches 170˚F at the thigh and 160˚F at the breast. (Roasting time will depend on turkey size – see chart in the post above or notes below.)
  • After about 40 minutes remove the turkey from the oven (close the door to keep the heat in) and baste with the juices in the pan. Cover with foil again and put the turkey back in the oven. Repeat basting every 40 minutes.
  • For the last 45 minutes or so, remove the foil so the turkey can brown.
  • Once the turkey has tested done with a thermometer – internal temperature should register at 160˚F at the breast – remove from the oven and cover loosely with foil. Let rest for at least 30 minutes before carving.
    Don't cut it before resting – if you do, you will lose all the juice and end up with dry turkey meat.

Notes

Roasting Times for an Unstuffed Turkey
  • 6-8lbs = 2.5 to 3 hours
  • 8-12lbs = 3 to 4 hours
  • 12-16lbs = 4 to 5 hours
  • 16-20lbs = 5 to 5.5 hours
  • 20-24lbs = 5.5 to 6 hours

Nutrition

Calories: 559kcal | Carbohydrates: 3g | Protein: 72g | Fat: 28g | Saturated Fat: 11g | Cholesterol: 256mg | Sodium: 1866mg | Potassium: 828mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 1g | Vitamin A: 476IU | Vitamin C: 2mg | Calcium: 49mg | Iron: 3mg

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